On Democracy, Political Dynasty and Citizenship

Democracy is rigged and, despite the homage bestowed upon it, is actually a farce that derides the way politics should be. In fact, it has never been operative, not even, in the self-appointed bastion of democracy, the United States of America. What we often witness, dramatized in our cable TV, accented by news networks and chronicled in websites, magazines and dailies are the appearances of democracy. What is at work, what rules the world, since the supposed nascent of democracy is plain and simple aristocracy, that is,  the rule of the few, who, thanks to their effective machinations, are able to sustain their will to power under the mantle of an appearance of democracy.  Democracy is a masquerade that has duped us and we are the unwitting, unwilling victims of our sorry political naivete.

This, in a nutshell, is how I gather the remarks put forward by Prof. Peter Simpson, a visiting scholar from the City University of New York, in a recent forum held last March at the University of Santo Tomas and it came to mind in the aftermath of the country’s midterm elections.  There was a host of vital issues at stake last May 13 but nothing rubbed closer to the problem of democracy in the Philippines than the question of political dynasty.

Last April 21, the Philippine Daily Inquirer featured in its “Talk of the Town” segment a survey of all the senatorial bets’ position on political dynasty.  Expectedly, outsiders of political dynasty were critical about it; those who came from traditional political families were rather ambivalent in their stand while the newbies from the emergent power clans hid their outright endorsement of their pedigree’s power trip behind the oft repeated appeal to the popular will as the final arbiter of their political fate.

As they are, the candidates’ responses merely show why we can’t hope to see any resolution of the problem of political dynasty in the near future.  Those who are against it have too little power to even make a dent and those who are part of it do not even see it as a problem, much less, why it is so.

The success of the likes of Binay, Ejercito, Aquino, Angara and Villar was a clear testament to the political advantage of those with greater access to resources, social network, media, political machinery and more importantly a family name that catches the electorate’s pygmy memory.  In the future, we might indeed have a Senate with 24 seats occupied by senators whose main distinction would no longer be their last but their first names. Legislative districts will no longer be classified in number but identified according to the leaders’ lineage.  Provinces and towns might even be re-named according to the genealogies of their political lords and the Philippines’ 7,100 islands will be transformed into family enclaves, reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude.

This scenario will have rendered unnecessary the writing of critiques similar to Eric Gutierrez’ The Ties That Bind or Sheila Coronel et al’s The Rulemakers or Primitivo Mojares’ The Conjugal Dictatorship.  No one after all will find it tasteful to read on something that has become the normal state of things.

Prof. Kaelin’s insights on “The Problem of Family Politics” (PDI, April 22, 2013) were particularly instructive.  There really is a genuine need to re-think the already blurred relationship between the family and the state in the Philippines.  Appeal to popular will or the invocation of the family’s genetic love of public office, I mean, public service will hardly contribute to the quality of debate regarding political dynasty. It will probably take time for members of these political dynasties to realize that the issue is neither their political future nor the satisfaction of their insatiable heroic desire to serve but the survival of our democratic life.  More than leadership, democracy is about citizenship; more than government, it is about empowerment and it certainly depends for its flourishing on the possibility of equal opportunity, autonomy and the absence of hegemonic rule.

Prof. Simpson’s critical attitude towards democracy becomes understandable when seen in the light of something like Philippines’ political landscape.  Apparently, democracy earns its bad reputation because of its inherent vulnerability to abuse and manipulation.  At the end of the day, what we see in practice is not really democracy but democracy in its perverted form.

It is possible that the debate on political dynasty will yield positive results when the focus shifts from the question of how to downgrade the power clans’ will to power to how to upgrade the capability of citizens as the primordial sovereign.  We can mitigate this constant ancestral itch to rule when we expand the political, economic and cultural space necessary for the citizens’ self-determination.  In the long run, what will save democracy in this country from further decay is not computerized election but citizenship education.  

It is about time that Filipinos recognize ourselves not as constituents but as citizens.  It is only as such, following Aristotle, that politics becomes a meaningful and liberative practice.

Recalling Sartre

In the former times, when a kid is asked what he wants to be when he grows up, the answer one would usually get is that he wants to be an astronaut, a doctor, an engineer, a soldier, a priest.  These days however, when a kid is given the same question, the answer most likely one would hear is that he wants to work in America, in Australia, in Canada, in Singapore, in Dubai or anywhere but home. This observation resonates with a remark made by Prof. Randy David in one of his recent articles entitled “Migration As A Way of Life.’  Prof. David noted: “Migration studies report that more than 10 million Filipinos, roughly 10 percent of our population, today live and work in about 193 countries. These figures have prompted analysts to speak of a Filipino diaspora. The term is a derivative of the Greek word “sporas,” meaning “scattered like seeds.” We are a seafaring people and long-distance travel is not unknown to us. We have had waves of Filipino migration to Hawaii, Guam, and the rest of the United States, as a byproduct of our colonial ties with America. But, for a long time, the rest of the world was unmarked space for us. Indeed, throughout its colonial past, the Philippines had been more of a receiving than a sending country, attracting over the centuries migrants from China, Japan, India, and from as far as Lebanon…Our kind of organized migration is vastly different from that pursued by young people elsewhere, who might spend time traveling, studying, or living in other cultures in order to gain international experience. They do not stay abroad out of desperation or necessity.  They don’t leave young children behind. Most of them come back to start families and build their careers hand in hand with the development of their societies.”

More and more Filipinos are leaving their own county out of this growing consciousness of nothingness which has become a phenomenological fact of our daily lives.  Such nothingness manifests itself in different forms and levels of deficiency, from basic nutrition to public healthcare to quality education to public order to good governance to name a few. It is precisely this awareness of nothingness which impels one to create himself according to Sartre. But as we have seen, such self-creation is defined these days no longer in terms of a self-project.  With the advent of global economy, underwritten by liberalist ideology, self-creation has been equated with mere acquisition of skills considered marketable in well developed countries such as those mentioned above.  The current generation sees their becoming no longer as a meaningful pursuit but as an endeavor towards a more profitable future.  Certainly there is nothing wrong in aspiring to earn more; what makes the situation lamentable is the reduction of human potential to mere acquisition of profit.   This obsession with profit, either in individual or social scale, is the chief characteristic of the modern society and it infects the way individuals look at themselves and the manner with which they relate with one another and the world at large.  Sartre’s notion of freedom as the key to human creativity has no place in modern society.  There is no need to be free after all; our fates have been decided and our journeys has been charted by the gods in the Olympus of the global economy long before we could learn how to dream   Our needs have been subsumed by the needs of the market.  Our hopes are pinned on the worldwide financial forecasts.  Our angst hangs in the balance of the shifting behavior of the global trade.  The only freedom left in us is the freedom to choose which skill to acquire to match the demands of the labor market or the freedom is to stay home and starve ourselves to extinction.  Such is the famous Sartrean irony of freedom.  Whether to be the worlds’ laborer or to remain poor in one’s own country is a matter of a personal cboice.  Freedom is both our transcendence and condemnation.  There is really no exit out of it.  The Sartrean notion of freedom is a celebration of individual autonomy and at the same time, a phenomenology of the irony of the human condition.  Sartre’s existentialist philosophy is an exploration of the inherent promise and problem of becoming human which freedom itself underlies.  Sartre reminds us that:  “Man is all the time outside of himself: it is in projecting and losing himself beyond himself that he makes man to exist; and, on the other hand, it is by pursuing transcendent aims that he himself is able to exist. Since man is thus self-surpassing, and can grasp objects only in relation to his self-surpassing, he is himself the heart and center of his transcendence. There is no other universe except the human universe, the universe of human subjectivity. This relation of transcendence as constitutive of man (not in the sense that God is transcendent, but in the sense of self-surpassing) with subjectivity (in such a sense that man is not shut up in himself but forever present in a human universe) – it is this that we call existential humanism. This is humanism, because we remind man that there is no legislator but himself; that he himself, thus abandoned, must decide for himself; also because we show that it is not by turning back upon himself, but always by seeking, beyond himself, an aim which is one of liberation or of some particular realisation, that man can realize himself as truly human.”

There is therefore something definitely remiss then when the individual is disempowered of his ability to surpass himself and relegated merely as a cog in the machine of global wealth creation; when the individual as a being for-itself is reduced and restricted into a mindless being in-itself by the lords and masters of profit.  Sartrean philosophical anthropology, when read with critical caution, is a good reminder of the beauty of becoming human, which sadly, is gradually fading from the appreciation of the modern individual.  Or maybe it has not really faded but suppressed by a caricature of himself as free man inside the cage he himself gilded with gold and silver.

A Conference on Alasdair MacIntyre

Alasdair MacIntyre is an acclaimed philosopher in the US as well as in the UK and is a leading exponent of a contemporary reinterpretation of Aristotle. To date,  he is known, together with Charles Taylor  and Jean Luc Marion, as a leading living Catholic thinker after the likes of Karol Wojtyla, Gabriel Marcel, Max Scheler, Etienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain and Maurice Blondel among others.  While committed to Aristotelian scholarship, his brand of Aristotelianism though is unlike a dogged apologia for philosophical orthodoxy but a critical engagement with Aristotelian thought in the light of the ethical and political questions of the day.  We may even consider his work as a correction of Aristotle or an attempt to push the frontiers of Aristotelianism beyond Aristotle himself. To carry out such  project, MacIntyre has to tap a variety of intellectual resources from Ludwig Wittgenstein, Karl Marx and Thomas Aquinas among others.  In its core, MacIntyrean philosophy is committed to a promotion of an ethical life rooted on virtues that are borne out of moral discourse and practices participated in by the agents themselves.  His discourse is a rebuke of the ethics of modernity which either puts premium on the primacy of law (Kant) or utility ((Mill) or abandons the traditional notion of subject (Hume) or tradition (Nietzsche). The wide reach of his intellectual range puts MacIntyre right at the junction of a variety of philosophical debates. He agrees with Marx in his critique of the capitalist system but remains critical of  Marxism’s capitalist tendencies.  He is one of mind with Habermas on the importance of discourse but differs from him in his notion of ratonality. Together with fellow Aristotelian Hannah Arendt, he is committed to the promotion of pluralism but does not see eye to eye with her when it comes to the interpretation of the end of ethical life. In his critique of Enlightenment, he takes the side of Nietzsche but stands galaxies away from him with his defense of tradition-constituted rationality.  His advocacy of social and political change is matched only by his commitment to the critique of the sciences.  He has likewise remained sharply critical of  libertarian positions of John Rawls and Robert Nozick whose ideas find incarnation in the political and economic systems of the US, the country which has been MacIntyre’s sanctuary since his emigration from Scotland three decades ago.

I heard of MacIntyre in a seminar roughly four years ago but did not develop keen interest on him until two years ago, when I started mapping out a possible research project for my doctoral studies.  My interest on ethics and Marxist political philosophy coupled with my predilection towards Aristotle and Aquinas made MacIntyre a natural choice.  I was doing my preliminary collection of online materials about him when I chanced upon the website of ISME.  I merely wanted initially to simply get to know the group and hopefully seek membership  for possible research and scholarly exposure.  Hence, when Dr. Bolaños forwarded a call for papers from the said body, I lost no time in sending a paper proposal.  My surprise with their interest on my research project heightened likewise my enthusiasm to meet and learn from the people known across the globe for their scholarship on Alasdair MacIntyre.

The group behind the conference I attended is known as ISME or the International Society of MacIntyrean Enquiry.  The group’s website (http://www.macintyreanenquiry.org/index.html) provides us a clear idea about how ISME wants itself to be known : Inspired by Alasdair MacIntyre’s critique of contemporary ideas and institutions, the International Society for MacIntyrean Enquiry is dedicated to the theoretical and practical pursuit of the human good. ISME seeks to bring together the different traditions that are informed by this Aristotelian principle. We therefore provide a forum within which contemporary Aristotelians, Thomists, Marxists,and others can explore the grounds for a common project. Scholars in fields ranging from philosophy to social sciences, and others interested theoretically and practically in human flourishing, work within ISME to try to identify and promote that common good. To this end, the Society convenes international conferences, supports publication of conference papers, collects a bibliography of MacIntyre’s work, publishes a quarterly newsletter, maintains a web presence, and supports emerging scholars working with MacIntyre’s ideas. We pursue these goals in a spirit of friendship and communal dialogue, whilst also engaging in dialogue with rival traditions. If you are interested in these pursuits or in MacIntyrean enquiry more generally, we invite you to join the Society.

ISME was founded six years ago by scholars from both US and UK who wished to commit themselves in the pursuit of the objective cited above. For the last six years then, ISME conferences have been held alternately in both US and UK.  For this year, ISME’s 6th conference, it was the turn of UK to host the event with the University of Nottingham as the venue. University of Nottingham has four campuses in Nottingham itself (Jubilllee, University Park, Sutton Bonington and Medical School) and two outside UK (China and Malaysia).  The ISME conference was held at the University Park campus.  To date, the University of Nottingham is ranked No. 10 in UK and 75th across the globe.

Serving as academic convenors for its UK leg are Dr. Tony Burns of University of Nottingham and Dr. Kelvin Knight of the London Metropolitan University and CASEP (Center for Contemporary in Ethics and Politics), the partner institution of ISME.  Dr. Tony Burns is the author of the book Aristotle and Natural Law released this year by Continuum. Dr. Kelvin Knight has also authored and edited books (Aristotelian Philosophy: Ethics and Politics from Arsitotle to MacIntyre (2007); Revolutionary Arsitotelianism:  Ethics, Resitance and Utopia (2008); The MacIntyre Reader (1998);  and numerous articles on Alasdair MacIntyre.  Last year, Virtue and Politics: Alasdair MacIntyre’s Revolutionary Aristotelianism, the book he co-ediited with Paul Blackledge was published by University of Notre Dame Press.

The ISME also counts either as officers or members scholars on MacIntyre of significant note among them Peter McMylor (Alasdair MacIntyre: Critic of Modernity, 1993), Christopher Stephen Lutz (Tradition in the Ethics of MacIntyre: Relativism, Thomism and Philosophy, 2004; Reading Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, 2012), Jeffrey Nicholas (Reason, Tradition and the Good: MacIntyre’s Tradition-Constituted Reason and Frankfurt Critical Theory, 2012) etc. All of them were present during the conference and have likewise presented their own papers and participated generously during the discussions.

Although dominated by participants from the UK and the US, there was also ample representation from various parts of the world like Portugal, Turkey, South Africa, Lithuania, Israel, Italy,  Japan, Germany and Middle East. The Philippines and UST were represented at the ISME by yours truly, apparently, for the first time.

My paper presentation was slated on the first day of the conference.  I was on the third batch of concurrent presentors. With me on the same room was Geoff Moore of  Durham Business School, UK who presented his paper on “The Christian Church as a Practice-Institution Combination: An Empirical Exploration of MacIntyre’s Conceptual Framework” and on the other room were Dominic James Burbidge of Oxford University, UK with his paper, “Civic Friendship as the Mechanism for Cooperation in the Polis” and Phillip Devine of Providence College, USA who read his work entitled, “Politics After MacIntyre.”

I received a handful of comments on and suggestions for my paper which I greatly welcomed and appreciated. I took note of those comments and suggestions and intend to use them for the sequel of my paper which I plan to submit to ISME’s conference next year.

The highlights of the conference of course were the plenary sessions where we had a chance to listen to the big names in philosophy in UK such as Dr. Kevin Knight who read his paper on “MacIntyre and Maritain On History and Human Rights”; Mary Midgley (The Ethical Primate, 1994; Utopias, Dolphins and Computers, 1996; Evolution As Religion, 2002; Beast and Man, 2002; The Myths We Live By, 2003; Owl of Minerva; A Memoir, 2005 among others) with her “Ought Humans To Be Immortal” and Dr. Greg Currie (The Nature of Fiction, 1990; Image and Mind: Film, Philosophy and Cognitive Science, 1994; Recreative Minds: Imagination in Philosophy and Psychology, 2003; Arts and Minds, 2004; Narratives and Narrators: A Philosophy of Stories, 2010)  with his controversial discourse, “Is Narrative Good for You?”

The whole experience was definitely worth it, in terms of cultural and philosophical exposure, of establishing network, of representing the country and the UST, of meeting people who previously were mere printed names to me and more importanly, of knowing how much more work do I need to undertake to learn more about philosophy and the thoughts of Alasdair MacIntyre.

Versions of Philosophy

As it evolves from its Greek origin, philosophy assumes a variety of forms throughout history. These varieties of philosophy are what other textbooks call branches or kinds of philosophy.  For our purpose, we prefer to call them versions of philosophy.  There is only one love of wisdom but there could be different ways by which the same philosophy expresses itself in different  ages and cultures. Even authors vary in the way they present philosophy in its different forms. Sometimes it is labeled according to the nationality or geographical location of certain philosophers (German philosophy, French philosophy, British philosophy, Chinese philosophy, Indian philosophy, Continental philosophy) or according to an identification with a particular period of history (ancient philosophy, medieval philosophy, renaissance philosophy, modern philosophy) or according to affinity with a religious thought (Islamic philosophy, Jewish philosophy, Christian philosophy, Buddhist philosophy, Daoist philosophy).  Philosophy is also identified following the name of the philosopher which espoused a certain system of thought (Thomistic philosophy after Thomas Aquinas; Cartesian philosophy after Rene Descartes; Kantian philosophy after Immanuel Kant; Hegelian philosophy after George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel; Marxist philosophy after Karl Marx among others).  It is also common to name philosophy according to different schools of thought which embody the spirit of the times of different epochs (skepticism, scholasticism, idealism, rationalism, romanticism, materialism, existentialism, modernism, structuralism). Philosophy also sometimes adopts the name of the method or tool it uses as in the case of logic, hermeneutics or analytic philosophy. The most familiar of all philosophy’s names is taken after the subject matter it covers.  Among the popular ones, we have epistemology if it concerns the question of the validity of knowledge; ontology if it concerns the question of the basis of reality; ethics if it concerns the question concerning the basis of human action; aesthetics if it concerns the question concerning the criteria of beauty. When it comes to the question of divinity, philosophy resorts to theodicy or if we turn to politics, we have political philosophy; for issues that concern fundamental questions related to our humanity, we have the philosophy of the human person.  Lately, we one can also hear of philosophy of science and philosophy of mathematics. In other schools here and abroad, one may also find courses on applied philosophy like environmental ethics, business ethics and philosophy of technology.

As one can see, philosophy excludes nothing in its purview.  Philosophy practically embraces the entire landscape of reality. Those who think of philosophy as a stand-alone discipline is gravely mistaken for philosophy’s real worth lies precisely in its ability to embed in other the disciplines the spirit of self-critique and rigorous inquiry. We do not philosophize if we merely subscribe to a particular philosophical doctrine or make ourselves blind disciples of this or that philosopher or worse, if we think and write as though philosophy will cure the ills of the world. The point of discussing the different versions of philosophy is for us to see the range of philosophy’s critical enterprise.  Philosophy has this distinct capacity to push the boundaries of its scope as wide as possible not so much by providing answers to all possible questions but by posing questions which enable it to establish “bridges”, to use the expression of Deleuze, with other disciplines. When philosophy dips its finger into seemingly alien frontiers like economics, quantum physics or biotechnology, it is actually engaging them in a kind of a critical interface in order to bring to the attention of the experts our human concerns. What appears like an interference is actually a necessary engagement which philosophy undertakes as a critical discipline. Philosophy does not compete with other fields of inquiry but puts itself at their service.

This is also the same spirit that we imbibe from studying philosophy. Philosophy introduces us to an interpretive life and makes more intense our yearning for wisdom by inspiring  and teaching us first of all to ask questions. A student of philosophy is a pilgrim and the questions he makes help him identify the landmarks in his map. A question is the first step towards understanding.  It creates the space and sets the condition of possibility for the construction of new meanings. It likewise opens up our sight to the multiplicity of alternative perspectives.  To live therefore an examined or interpreted life which philosophy offers us is to live a meaningful life.  It is to find the world and know it as if we see it for the first time.  We no longer look around us and see a world surrounded by dull figures and bland tones but trees, flowers, sunlight, air, raindrops which speak to us and out of whose language we are able to create meanings that make our lives worth living.  With philosophy, we no longer live inside the cave described by Plato. We become men and women of light, freed from the cave walls where the only images we see are shadows.

 

Learning Western Philosophy at the University of Santo Tomas

As we know, philosophy is Greek by origin.  The word philosophy itself is of Greek pedigree.  The whole Western civilization was born and cradled in Greece and much of the things we now know and see are part of this Greek legacy which the Philippines received by virtue of the Western expansion into our shores in 1521.  We know from our basic world history that Spanish culture, like others in most parts of Europe, was a by-product of Latin culture which is itself a progeny of the Greek culture. Jose Rizal himself, our national hero, was a huge fan of Greek poetry and literature as shown in his winning play El Consejo de los Dioses written in 1879 and awarded grand prize in the 1880-1881 literary contest sponsored by the Liceo Artistico Literario de Manila to commemorate the death of Cervantes.  The said piece, we should remember, was written when Rizal was still student of Ateneo, a school’s name which was taken from the Greek term athenaion (or atheneum in Latin), a temple of Athena, where Greek poets used to gather and read their works in her honor. Other schools which identify themselves as academy or liceo (lyceum) are also using names of Greek vintage.  Academy is a school associated with the Greek philosopher Plato and lyceum takes from the learning hub put up by another Greek philosopher and Plato’s student, Aristotle.  Even the Catholic church to which the majority of Filipinos belong is a beneficiary of Greek thinking.  St. Thomas Aquinas, the scholarly patron of the university, nourished himself from the genius of the ancient Greek intellectual giants.

When we use the term philosophy therefore, we have in mind Western philosophy, the kind of philosophy we inherited from the Greeks.  We need to use the qualification “western” in order to distinguish it from another breed of philosophy called “eastern” philosophy which is a way of thinking that germinate not from the West but in places like Asia, India and the Middle East.  Unlike its counterpart in the West, Eastern philosophy developed through closer kinship to religion and ethical life. It does not rely on heavy intellectualization and is given more to poetry and cultivation of a life lived according to an enlightened way.  The Western tradition however banks strongly on abstraction and chasing after ideas, which invariably are also referred to as form, theory, concept, or first principle or universals. Whereas the West emphasizes “grasping” of an idea, the East underscores “surrender.”  While the West puts premium on the mind, the East pays more attention to the heart. The West takes pride in being logical; the East finds pleasure in being spiritual. It may even be said that while for the West philosophy is love of wisdom, for the East it is more like the wisdom of love.

This is not to say that philosophy can be dissected into regions or geographic locations. In a school setting, the distinction between East and West is suggested merely as guide for academic discussion.  One thing we must emphasize about philosophy is its being universal, that is, it is something that is common and shared by all.  The desire to know belongs to us all as human persons , says Aristotle. That is one thing that binds us as members of one human community.  To promote philosophy therefore is to enhance appreciation of this natural patrimony of our common humanity.  The line drawn between the East and the West is purely a pedagogical tool.  Deep down, whether the person is Eastern or Western, as long as there is genuine desire to know and dialogue, there is philosophy in action.

The decision to begin our study of philosophy from the Western tradition is not arbitrary.  It is not even a decision for us to make. As suggested earlier, by virtue of our conquest, we were annexed by the Western powers around 1521 and since then, became more kindred to their influence instead of our Oriental and Malayan roots. Western philosophy is part of our endowment as members of a University founded on humanistic aspirations.  The figures that stand on the precipice of the Main Building testify to this.  The goal of studying philosophy is not really to make us philosophers or philosophy majors much less clones of the leading figures of Western philosophy but to make us philosophical, that is, to make us active shareholders and able participants in the creation, protection and cultivation of the common heritage of values, attitudes and beliefs that affirm our common humanity.  Such common heritage is what we call wisdom.  At the end of the day, it does not really matter whether one begins from the East or from the West because genuine philosophy always leads one to a path that meets the other. We seek and name it in different ways but deep down, true wisdom is one.

Remembering the Ancients

Imagine coming to a cinema halfway through the featured film, at the time when the climax of the story has started to build up, the identities of the characters have unraveled and the anticipation of the audience has mounted to another level.  It is still possible to feel excitement in this situation but the excitement has to compete with a thousand and one questions that whirl in our mind.  That is the price of coming late for a movie date. When we miss a substantial part of the movie’s preliminaries, we are bound to experience a kind of vacuum within and this can easily distract us from the movie’s narrative or  cinematic effects.

In our age however, this minor inconvenience can easily be remedied.  Most movies shown in theatres are preceded by comprehensive reviews long before their debut. In other words, when a cineaste visits a movie house, she is already loaded with substantial information about the movie she wants to see.  She might have read something from blogs or heard comments from talk shows or have browsed the movie’s book version. If she fails to do any of this, she can wait for the next screening and then tie up the loose ends once the movie starts again. Besides, most people these days no longer go to the cinema to watch a movie.  Movies today are either downloaded or burned and they are shown, no longer in huge cinema halls, but in offices, bedroom, waiting lounges, public transportations, practically any place where we can safely hold our gadgets where the movies are stored as files.

There is no shortage of options as long as the topic is confined to missing the beginning of a movie.  I guess it won’t be as easy once the issue shifts to life itself, how it began and how much we do not know about it.  As in the example given, we came to life in midstream. Events have taken place and episodes have transpired long before we barged into the scene.  History is past precisely because it is always ahead of us.  Like our tardy moviegoer, our advent to life is the entry of someone who is late for the screening. That explains why human existence is marked by so many unknowns.  This partial blindness to basic truths about life gives occasion to uncertainty but still, others take it as a motivation to journey and to search.

In the beginning of human civilization, our ancestors mitigate this problem of human condition by seeking recourse to religion, rituals, mysticism and superstition. They drew assurance and consolation from the latter to sustain them through a life marred by instability and doubt. From them, they derive answers that are ready-made and repeatable.  When we are dealing with something greater than ourselves, we often look for a north to give us constancy of direction.  In the old days, religion, ritual, mysticism and superstition perform that function. Then at one point, somewhere in ancient Greece, a group of people thought that maybe there is more to reality than what is prescribed by the oracle and the pronouncements of the gods.  There might be, they thought, a way of seeing life other than what is purported by the temple keepers and the worship leaders. Rather than relying on their word, these new breed of seekers started taking nature as it is – courting it, coaxing it to reveal its riches and secrets.  For this reason, these early thinkers are called sometimes as the first natural scientists because of their efforts to understand nature in its own terms. Their names, literally and otherwise, are indeed Greek – Thales, Anaximenes, Anaximander among others.  They were collectively referred to by scholars as the Milesians. Their goal was to determine the primary stuff that underlies reality. They came up with different theories.  Thales thought it was water. Anaximenes thought it was air. For Anaximander, it was something undefinable.  Despite their differences, they were in agreement that a new and different way of looking at the world is possible.  They were breaking new grounds though unaware that they were laying the ground for a discourse which will be later known as philosophy.

We remember the ancients because they remind us of philosophy’s origin. While it can be said that philosophy historically began from Greece at around 6th century BC, it is also true that its being historical does not only mean it originated from the past; it also means its origin stems from our human nature to seek an alternative way of looking at the world.  Philosophy therefore has no fixed and single history because it always begins, even today, even from us, every time we venture to search for a way of looking at life differently.

On Filipino Philosophy and Gilles Deleuze

(The following is an excerpt of a longer article entitled “Re-reading Filipino Philosophy with Gilles Deleuze.”)

If Filipino philosophy means articulation of native thought, doubtless we say that Filipino philosophy has existed long ago. What renders this proposition problematic however is the inherent ambivalence in the notion of the “native” itself.  At the turn of the 19th century, as the world was undergoing massive geopolitical shift and the Philippines’ was embroiled in its own struggle for sovereignty, one person attempted to define his own concept of the native. He was Jose Rizal.  In order to undertake his project of recuperating the meaning of the native,  Rizal turned to the Antonio de Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas.  de Morga was a Spanish lawyer and was the lieutenat governor in the Philippines from 1595-1603. What he had to say, Rizal thought,  deserved his readers’ serious attention since he “governed the destinies of the Philippines in the beginning of her new era and witnessed the last moments of our ancient nationality. In his introduction to the book, Rizal appealed to his fellow Filipinos’ “consciousness of the past, already effaced from your memory.” The past Rizal was alluding to was the Philippines’ prehistory which he reconstructed from the reportage of de Morga. In Rizal’s fictive and romantic history, the Philippines had an authentic Malayan and Asian past, an established culture and a precolonial nationality.  All these however floundered with the coming of European modernity. Rizal’s de Morga annotation was desribed by the Philippine culture scholar Resil Mojares as a “nationalist counternarrative.”  As he explained: “Rizal’s decision to annotate Morga was not merely dictated by expedience but the discursive formation in which the nationalists operated.  They had to speak to, through, and against the European texts that had – by now they represented the past, present, and future of the country – ‘produced a Philippines that the Filipino nationalists now desired to fashion as their own.” While Rizal’s work was read more as a fictive rather than a historical narrative even during his time, it did however succeed in convincing his contemporaries as well as the reader of the succeeding generations that such pristine, native Filipino culture was possible.  Rizal’s legacy of nationalism would prove to be dominantly influential among scholars across different historical periods and and across a varierty of disciplines.  With the resurgence of nationalism prior to and during the heyday of Martial Law, philosophy too would lean towards the nationalist discourse.  It is within this context that one may read exponents of Filipino philosophy like Emerita Quito, Claro Ceniza, Leonardo Mercado and Florentino Timbreza.  The works they did were an attempt to bring Filipino philosophy closer to the philosophy we knew from the West and the same time highlight what is a typically Filipino native thought.  As noted by Mercado in his apologia: “All movements are based on a philosophy which bullets cannot destroy.  In the growing clamor for Filipino self-identity is implied the need for clarifying what Filipino thought is.  Colonial powers have ruled the Filipinos for the past centuries and in doing so imposed their own ideologies on the people. Intellectual colonialism is like a process of condiitioning; it induces a person to forget his own culture and eventually makes him ape a superior model…In short, the Filipino needs a philosophy to explain and support his identity.”

While laudable in their own rights and for what they intended to achieve, it is difficult to see how Filipino philosophy as conceived by the above-mentioned thinkers would advance given its entanglement with the problematic of identity which as pointed out above was something which Rizal in his annotation of Morga merely posited but left unchallenged.  Rizal thought of identity in metaphysical, essentialist terms.  Identity to him was something pre-given and something which can be lost and regained through a narrative return.  The campaign for Filipino philosophy is an extension of such project. Our local gurus could not be blamed after all for their short sight for the problem was not their handiwork but was merely handed down by a tradition of nationalist narrative steeped in fictive history and romanticism. Rizal himself, for all his genius, would not have subjected what he was writing to a self-critique aware as he was that what he was writing was not a philosophical piece but a work of propaganda meant as a counterpoint to the caricaturist perception of Spain about the Philippines. He would not have been aware that both identity and alterity are products of  hegemony of European modernity. In the words of Hardt and Negri: “Colonialism and racial subordination function as a temporary solution to the crisis of European modernity, not only in economic and political terms, but also in terms of identity and culture. Colonialism constructs figures of alterity and manages their flows in what unfolds as a complex dialectical structure. The negative construction of non-European others is finally what founds and sustains European identity itself.” This is a classic case of eternal return where one sees the predominance of reactive forces over the active forces and the perpetuation of the hegemony of the Same. The more Filipino philosophy persists in its recovery of a lost identity, the deeper it gets stuck in such quandary. In order to find its voice, Filipino philosophy must strive to assert its will to power. This happens when the negation brought about by the initial triumph of the reactives forces is itself negated (the negation of the negation) and the reactive forces themselves are dissipated in the process Nietzsche called “active destruction” – the event when negation is transmuted to affirmation.  It is through this that eternal return can lead the becoming of the active forces which Nietzsche and Deleuze described as the “eternal joy of becoming.” As a first step towards this goal, Filipino philosophy, instead of harping on a lost paradise, should instead harness its own intensity to critique, not retrieve, identity.  This is the same strategy Deleuze himself learned from David Hume. Philosophy for both Hume and Deleuze does not begin from any notion of identity since identity is yet to be constituted.  Here lies the radicalism of the empiricism of Hume. It is an empiricism that speaks of a world that is constantly slipping away from the grasp of the subject who pretends to know itself as well as the given.  Hume’s empiricism overturns this belief since the given is in constant flux; the given is a mere succession of events, of a movement that never follows a single trajectory. The best that the subject can do is to believe and to invent, that is, to engage the unknown. The singular feat of Hume according to Deleuze is precisely in spelling out this problem: the problem of the subject constituting itself in the given when the given itself is not given to subject.  It is in this sense that Hume becomes one of the primary sources of Deleuzean philosophy of difference. In this position, Hume himself is turning the triumvirate of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle upside down and is likewise radicalizing everything the likes of Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche and Marx have to say after him.  In Hume, Deleuze finds an exclamation point for his philosophy of difference and Filipino philosophy itself can find in it a veritable starting point.  Filipino philosophy can turn to but cannot afford to dwell on history if it wishes to affirm itself.  The challenge is to find an expression of newness, an exploration of becoming.  In the words of Deleuze:  “History today still designates only the set of conditions, however recent they may be, from which one turns away in order to become, that is to say, to create something new.”

Rizal originally thought of Filipino identity as a molar reality, as something that defined who we were and whose reclamation is indispensable in establishing a national community. Succeeding scholars pursued the same line of inspiration and as shown in the paper, early exponents of Filipino philosophy infused their workds with the same mindset.  It was a philosophy anchored on nationalism which itself is fed by a memory of an identity, whole and intact, before it was deterritorialized by our European colonizers. As I argued in the paper, there is a need to re-visit Filipino philosophy since the very foundation from which it seeks legitimation is itself under question. Identity, says the Deleuze, is the very reason for the floundering of Western culture, the same damaged culture that we inherited from Europe with its alleged discovery of the Philippines.  To be truly liberating, philosophy, Filipino or otherwise, must extricate itself from the domain of the Same, that is, from the realm of identity.  The real matter for philosophy, in fact, the only matter, is the creation of concepts and according to Deleuze, concepts are created not by the sustaining what is but by provoking what can become.  This is how Filipino philosophy can evoke difference.

Filipino scholars of philosophy can no longer hope to reclaim what has long been deterritorialized.  This is not to say that native speculation has reached a dead end.  The value of the philosophy of difference of Gilles Deleuze as an alternative language for Filipino philosophy lies precisely in its ability to indicate new directions and to inaugurate virgin passage ways that can help Filipino speculation more than just a regional philosophy but a genuine field of immanence where both Filipino and philosophy can become.  To help us accomplish this goal, we are here proposing some Deleuzean concepts and how they may be applied in our pursuit of pushing the boundaries of Filipino philosohy ever wider.

First, identity is a molecular, not a molar, reality.  Following Hume’s insight, Deleuze tells us that subjectivity is not something pregiven; it is in constant flux, an assemblage that is constantly constituted.  From this perspective, we can read Rizal’s much mourned lost Filipino “identity” as a mere moment in a long episode of identity creation which continues until today.  The Filipino is not a figure that once was and would have been forever until deterritorialized.  The Filipino is a bundle of tales, a fusion of forces.  There is no reason to exorcise ourselves of our colonial past in the hope of finding a nationality that is pure and untouched for the Filipino is a field of constant deterrritorializing and reterritorializing influences. To think that we can be Filipinos without the any colonial intervention is to betray the very history of the word “Filipino” itself.  A Filipino speculation on philosophy can qualify as philosophy according to its capacity to create concepts that can elevate our understanding not just our ethnicity but moreso, the possibilities of our relational nature as human subjects. This notion acquires particular urgency especially in this age of massive Filipino diaspora and the postmodern blurring of the traditioal ethnic and cultural boundaries.

Second, Filipino philosophy should direct itself to becoming a minority.  In the past, our native thinkers considered it Filipino when speculation is done in contrast to the Western systems of thought or when the vernacular is used as opposed to the colonial language. Deleuze would hesitate to call this mode of philosophizing different because, as it is, it remains stuck in the negative. Difference, as Deleuze would have it, is not celebration of negation but a festive announcement of affirmation.  Filipino philosophy as a minority philosophy must not step back from a majority language or from a majority system of thought.  What it should do instead is insert itself within them and from inside, discover new way of saying, new mode of thinking well beyond or even against the majority’s very own.  Filipino philosophy can do this not only within philosophy itself but within other disciplines the way Deleuze interpreted the novels of Kafka, the paintings of Francis Bacon or French cinema.

Rizal’s hope was an experience of genuine becoming for every Filipino.  An alternative Filipino philosophy using Deleuze is a corrective to the belief that such hope is lost and such hope is past.  We are a people composed of singularities who continue to create and recreate ourselves from various social, cultural and historical intensities. As a philosophy of difference, Filipino philosophy is a narrative of our constant becoming. The principal task of Filipino philosophy is to resist not only the tendency to define itself according to the framework of ethnicity; it should in fact defy the very tendency towards definition.  The task of philosophy, if we follow Deleuze, is to push the boundaries ever wider, to create spaces that will make possible the creation of new concepts.  To use ethnicity to designate how we think and what we are thinking as Filipinos is to denigrate both philosophy and the Filipino by reducing them into metaphysical categories. It does not mean of course that the question as to what makes Filipinos Filipino should be set aside.  On the contrary, the only way to give justice to this problem is to keep it open.  Filipino philosophy, to become philosophical, must restrain itself from making conceptual prescriptions on questions that border on either philosophy and Filipino. Philosophy and Filipino – they are both singularities; they exceed identity. They can only become.  Read through Deleuze, Filipino philosophy means philosophy becoming Filipino and Filipino becoming philosophy.  What needs articulation is not identity but the creative process of engagement with a variety of forces which affect the singularities they both continuously become.

Ang Hanap-buhay ng Pinoy at si Martin Heidegger

Umaabot na sa halos sampung milyon ang bilang ng mga Filipino na nagtratrabaho o naninirahan sa iba’t ibang bahagi ng mundo.  Ang bilang na ito ay patuloy pa na nadadagdagan sa bawat libong umaalis ng bansa araw-araw.  Mula pa noong dekada sitenta, nang isa-polisiya ng administrasyon ng dating pangulong Marcos ang paggawa bilang kalakal, naging mas madami at mas mabilis ang paglikas ng mga Filipino.  Lalo itong umigting sa saglit na paglago ng pandaigdigang ekonomiya pagdating ng dekada nobenta. Maliban sa Amerika, paboritong hantungan ng karamihan sa atin ang Australia, Canada, New Zealand at Singapore. Ang mga estudyanteng pumapasok sa kolehiyo ngayon ay sa ibang bansa na nakapako ang mata hindi pa man nakakatapos. Kahit ang mga may trabaho na ay nagsisipagbitiw sa kani-kanilang opisina, eskwelahan, negosyo o pabrika para makipagsapalaran sa buhay sa ibang bansa. At kahit sino sa kanila ang tanungin kung ano ang nagudyok sa kanila upang mangapit-bansa, iisa ang sagot na maririnig sa kanila: hanap-buhay.

Pilipinas ang mundo ng mga Filipino o ang Da na tinatawag ni Heidegger. Dito nararanasan ng Filipino ang pagkakatapon sa kanya.  Dito nagaganap ang kanyang pakikisangkot sa Meron. Subalit, batay sa nabanggit na, tila may kabalintunaan ang nangyayaring pakikisangkot ng marami.  Pakikisangkot ito na nilalarawan ng pagtakas, ng paglikas.  Pakikisangkot ng pagtanggi na ariin ang sariling pagkakatapon.  Masisisi ba naman natin sila?  Katwiran ng isang kaibigang umalis kamakailan lamang papuntang Vancouver, masyado na raw mahirap ang buhay sa Pilipinas. Pakaunti na raw nang pakaunti ang oportunidad para sa progreso at ito’y lalo pang nababawasan dahil sa katiwalian sa gobyerno.  Malabis na rin daw ang paglaganap ng polusyon na tumalab na hindi lamang sa hangin kundi pati na rin sa tubig at sa lupa.  Hindi na raw ligtas para sa mga anak niya ang manatili sa isang lugar na maaaring magdulot pa sa kanila ng malubhang karamdaman balang araw. Nakakabagabag na rin daw ang dalas at dami ng insidente ng krimen na dati’y sa mga panulukang madidilim lamang nangyayari;  ngayon, tila nagiging karaniwang kaganapan na ito kahit sa loob ng mga tahanan at ang kriminal ay hindi na mga estranghero mula kung saan kung hindi mga taong kabilang sa pamilya.

Kaya nga para sa kanilang nakaalis na, ang kanilang pag-alis ay hindi pagtakas; hindi ito pagpiglas sa kanilang pagkakatapon.  Udyok daw ito ng kanilang pagmemeron bilang mga Filipino.  Tugon nila ito bilang Da-sein sa paanyaya ng sisilip-kukubling Meron.  Bilang Da-sein, pananagutan nila sa kanilang sarili, sa sariling kanilang-kanila lamang, ang maghanap ng isang makakatotohanang pag-iral, ng isang buhay na marapat sa kanilang pagsisikap at mga inaasam. Kung ang Da-sein ay kinakatha ng kanyang sariling posibilidad, hindi niya maaaring talikuran ang tawag nito.  Ang tanong na hinaharap ng isang Filipinong nagmemeron ay kung paano tutupadin ang mga posibilidad na ito sa harap ng maraming balakid na nakaharang sa kanya. Nais niyang umunlad; nais niyang matupad ang mga pangarap; nais niya ng mas matatag na kinabukasan ngunit matay man niyang isipin, mahirap maganap ang lahat ng ito habang siya ay nasa Pilipinas. Kung sinabi ni Heidegger na ang Da-sein ay naglalakbay patungo sa posibilidad, ayon sa kaibigan ko, mas ramdam niya na ang buhay niya dito sa Pilipinas ay patungo sa wala.  Parang ganito rin ang binanggit ni Heidegger nang ipinanukala niya na ang buhay ng tao ay sadyang papunta sa wala, ibig sabihin, lahat tayo, lahat ng sa atin ay lilipas din. Gayunman, hindi ibig sabihin nito na ang ating pagsisikap maging ganap, maging totoo ay  maaari nating ipagwalang bahala. Sa katunayan, dahil nga lahat ay lilipas din, mas mahigpit ang ating pangangailangan ng makapag-iwan ng lagda ng ating pagiral. Sa ganito naiiba ang pag-iral ng Da-sein; sa ganito rin siya mas nagiging ganap at totoo. Nakikisangkot ang Da-sein sa panahon at tinutugis ang kanyang posibilidad dahil nga batid niya na bukas makalawa ay wala na siya. Ang pagiging pansamantala mismo ng panahon ang naguudyok sa Da-sein na makilahok, na yakapin ang bawat sandali, na salubungin sa halip na hintayin lamang ang posibilidad na nabibilang sa kanya.  Dahil dito, masasabi natin na sadyang may malapit na kaugnayan ang kalinga at bagabag. Ang kalinga ay tugon sa udyok ng posibilidad. Ito ay isang malikhaing pagtupad sa ating pagiging itinapon. Ang pagkalinga ay pagtalima ng Da-sein sa posibleng mangyari sa kanya.  Nagpapamalas siya ng kalinga sapagkat naniniwala siya na mayroong mangyayari. Ang kalinga samakatwid ay nakatuon sa posibilidad at hindi sa isang teritoryong geograpikal. Kaya nga kung kinakailangang lisanin ng isang Filipino ang sariling bansa, ginagawa niya ito dahil itinapon ang Da-sein upang kalingain ang sariling posibilidad.  Ang pagkatapon samakatwid sa Da-sein ay hindi nangangahulugan ng pagkakapinid sa bakuran ng isang bansa. Ang pagkatapon ng Da-sein ay pagiging laan sa iba’t ibang posibleng mangyari na tanging Da-sein lamang ang makakabatid sa paraang siya lamang ang makakahanap.  Kung walang nangyayari at kung walang nakikita sa kanyang buhay, dito makakaramdam ng bagabag ang Da-sein. Nababagabag siya sapagkat nababanaag niya ang wala: walang pag-asa, walang pagkakataon, walang kinabukasan, walang pagbabago.  Ang lahat ng ito ay pahiwatig ng wala.  Ayon kay Heidegger, hindi natin nakikita ang wala mismo.  Nababanaag lamang natin ito sa mga bagay-bagay na tila ba unti-unting humuhulagpos sa ating mga kamay o sa paligid na waring naglalaho sa ating paningin: sweldong ayaw tumaas, presyong ayaw bumaba, trapik na hindi malutas, kontratang hindi maisara. Sa ganito nagpapamalas ang wala.  Sa harap nito, nababagabag ang Da-sein na baka walang mangyari.  Dalawa ang kanyang posibleng maging tugon: pag-ibayuhin ang kalinga o kaya tuluyang masadlak sa buhay na karaniwan.  Tinuturing ni Heidegger na karaniwan ang buhay na paulit-ulit; isang buhay na nakakulong sa sirkulo ng nakagawian na: natutulog, bumabangon, pumapasok, umuuwi, napapagod pagkatapos ay matutulog ulit, babangon ulit, papasok ulit, uuwi ulit, makakaramdam ulit ng pagod hanggang sa makatulog ulit at magpatuloy ang buhay na nakasanayan. Hindi ganito ang buhay ng Da-sein.  Kung tutuusin, positibo pa ngang maituturing ang pagpaparamdam ng wala.  Dahil dito, nauudyukan ang Da-sein na tumalima upang magpamalas ng kalinga. Silang nakaramdam ng udyok na ito, sila ang naglakas-loob na mangibang bayan upang hanapin ang buhay na mas totoo para sa kanila.

Ang hanap-buhay ng Pinoy samakatwid ay maaaring tingnan sa dalawang lebel.  Una, sa lebel na ontik, ibig sabihin, sa lebel ng karaniwan nating pagkaunawa kung ano ang hanap-buhay – walang iba kundi ang paghahanap ng ikabubuhay.  Sa ordinaryong karanasan, ang paghahanap ng ikabubuhay ay bahagi ng ating pagtanggap sa mundo bilang mundo at sa ating tadhana bilang itinapon.  Nagugutom tayo kaya kailangang kumain; nabibilad sa araw kaya kailangan ng silungan; nangangarap kaya kailangang mag-aral.  Lahat ng ito ay kailangang tustusan ng salapi kaya malaking bagay sa kahit sino man na magkaroon ng permanente at maayos na hanap-buhay.  Ang hanap-buhay sa ontik na pagkaunawa ang nagbibigay ng materyal na katiyakan sa pagmemeron ng tao.

Maliban dito, may isa pang kahulugan ang hanapbuhay; ang hanap-buhay sa ontolohikal na kahulugan.  Ibig sabihin nito, ang paghahanap ng buhay na makabuluhan at may pinaglalaanan.  Ang ontolohikal na hanap-buhay ay higit pa sa trabaho.  May mga taong kumikita ng malaking salapi subalit nananatiling salat sa loob dahil hindi pa nila nasusumpungan ang buhay na totoo para sa kanila. Marami sa ating mga kababayan na nakaalis na at matagal nang naninirahan sa ibang bansa ngunit hanggang ngayo’y waring dayuhan pa rin sa kanilang sarili sapagkat bagamat nakatuntong na sila sa lugar na kanilang gustong puntahan, ramdam nila na mayroon silang hindi pa nararating. Sa gitna ng akala nilang katuparan ng kanilang pangarap, naroon pa rin ang pakiramdam na hanggang ngayon tila ba sila’y namamamahay pa rin.

Sa isang banda, tila mas mahirap pa ang kanilang kalagayan kaysa sa mga taong naiwan dito sa Pilipinas.  Oo nga’t mahirap ang buhay dito; oo nga’t salat sa maraming bagay subalit parang mas malalim ang hiwa sa loob nilang nandayuhan sa ibang bansa. Bagamat walang bansa ang Meron at ang pagkatapon sa atin ay walang pinipiling rehiyon, hindi rin naman maikakaila ang malaking kaugnayan ng mundong pumapaligid sa atin at sa ating totoong pag-iral. Ito ang dahilan kung bakit para kay Heidegger, walang anomang lugar na maglalapit sa kanya sa Meron kundi ang Alemanya sampu ng kanyang tula, ng kanyang kasaysayan, ng kanyang mga awitin, maging ng kanyang mga kagubatan at kapatagan.  Gayunman, hindi nangangahulugan na mas malapit sa Meron silang hindi nangibang bayan at nagpaiwan dito sa Pilipinas.  May kani-kanyang lakbay ang bawat isa at sa kanila, iba-iba rin ang pagdanas ng Meron.  Ang tanging pagkakatulad ng Pinoy sa isa’t isa, mangibang bayan man o dito manirahan, ay ang bagay na lahat sila ay naghahanap-buhay: nagnanais kumita at naghahangad makakita. May malaking pagkakaiba ang malaking sweldo sa ibang bansa at ang pagtitiis sa kakaunti dito sa Pilipinas subalit alin man sa kanila’y maaaring maging daan papalapit o papalayo sa Meron. Kung tunay na mayroong pilosopiyang Filipino, dito dapat magsimula ang kanyang salaysay – sa penomenolohiya ng hanap-buhay ng Pinoy.